Category Archives: events

Olive masterclass

Olive lovers might be interested in the olive masterclass being run by The Princess and the Providore on March 26th in Melbourne (you need to book). Simon Field is the olive man and I’ve been to one of his classes before. Very enjoyable and informative. I also buy olives from him cos they’re delicious.

When? THURSDAY 26 March 6.30pm to 9.00pm
What? MINERAL water, glass of wine, yummy antipasti and recipes
http://www.princessprovidore.com/

Announcing: Melbourne foodblogger afternoon, Sat 7th March, 2pm

A new get-together of Melbourne’s foodbloggers is here! It’s been a while since foodbloggers gathered in Melbourne, and Thanh (I Eat Therefore I Am), Sarah (Sarah Cooks) and I were sad that the heatwave made it necessary to cancel the BBQ/picnic planned for early February. Thankfully, our decision was absolutely the correct one, given the awful events of that weekend.

The new event is scheduled for Saturday 7th March, 2pm, at The Commoner in Fitzroy. Yes, the very kind owners of The Commoner emailed us and offered to host the event, giving us access to their courtyard and… wait for it… their wood-fired oven (named Sergio) for heating up food.

The Commoneris at 122 Johnston Street in Fitzroy, just off Brunswick Street and easily accessible by tram 112 towards West Preston. This tram runs along Collins Street in the city, passing Spencer Street (Southern Cross) and Parliament Stations and only a short walk from Flinders Street Station. A number of eastern suburbs buses also run along Johnston Street.


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Come along! Tell other foodbloggers! As with some of the other foodblogger get-togethers, you’re encouraged to bring some food (preferably to share and enjoy together). As the owners of The Commoner have been so kind as to make available their courtyard and oven free of charge, it would be preferable if people would buy drinks from the restaurant’s drinks/wine list, rather than doing BYO.

Please use the comments area below to say if you’ll be bringing something to share and what… this way we can try to achieve a balance between savoury and sweet. ūüôā

We’re looking forward to seeing faces familiar and new!

Food conference: Out of the Frying Pan

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival held its first ‘Out of the Frying Pan’ talkfest last year and has repeated the event in 2008. It’s goal is to bring together industry and media to talk about issues (which can be interpreted in many ways). This sort of thing can be a mixed bag when there are so many not-quite-overlapping points of interest and last year’s was an odd mix of industry discussion and wannabe cookbook writers. This year there seemed to be more media representatives but less industry (chefs, producers, PR people) and though the focus was better, perhaps, the format rather undid it.

‘Global Food Trends’ was the opening session, moderated by prominent food media personage Joanna Savill, with panellists B√©n√©dict Beaug√© (www.miam-miam.com), William Sitwell (Editor, Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine), Gabrielle Hamilton (www.prunerestaurant.com), and Oriol Balaguer (stunning Spanish pastry chef, www.oriolbalaguer.com).

After a very long opening by Tourism Minister, Jacinta Allen (welcome to our Fantastic state where everything is Fantastic and especially in Fantastic Melbourne which is Fantastic just like the Fantastic Food and Fantastic producers and oh-my-god-shut-up-already), the panel was asked to start talking about the trends they could see. William Sitwell promptly established that his strongest card seems to be strong, pompous generalisations about anything he doesn’t like, taking cynical sneering to a level beyond Hugh-Grant-character-knobbishness. It started okay (ubiquity of food experiences, London as gastronomic capital of the world (ho, ho), exhausting rise in ethical issues facing consumers), but once he got onto hire-in home chefs, molecular gastronomy, seasonality, d√©gustation menus, and — watch out — the utter stupidity of bloggers… Tiresome.

Gabrielle Hamilton was a refreshingly grounded voice, honest and clear, but not afraid of stating her (often enjoyable) opinions. It was interesting to hear her concerns about the extreme casualisation of the dining experience in New York, with stemless glassware, placemats and a multitude of small dishes (‘the tasting menu is the chef’s most timid foot forward’) replacing the traditional dining format. And we mustn’t forget the ‘servers who you can’t tell from the customers’ as the staff become ever more casual too. Refreshingly honest about her own cooking too, she freely admitted that the idea of buying high-quality, prepped basic ingredients at a store is attractive to her as a tired working mother.

B√©n√©dict Beaug√© talked about the French perspective, where choice is also becoming a problem and people are seeking more comfortable dining options — the drawcard of the traditional.

Finally, one of my food idols, Oriol Balaguer, was asked about the concept of ‘tecnoemoci√≥n’, coined or implied by a Spanish journalist Pau Aren√≥s to refer to the artistry-formerly-known-as molecular gastronomy. I’m sure Balaguer gets asked this stuff very frequently, especially as he spent time at El Bulli earlier in his career. Putting the concept to one side for the moment, he mentioned (in Spanish, with interpreter) that there is a growing interest in Spain in traditional products and cuisine, perhaps with an emphasis on higher quality. But there is also an increased incorporation of quality or artisanal produce into processed foods. He also described an increase in ambition in the types and styles of tapas, with new ingredients and techniques. He didn’t seem to have much time for the term tecnoemoci√≥n, but it was unclear to me whether this was terminological or conceptual. (The idea is, in essence, that technology can be a vehicle for creating food which evokes emotion/excitement.)

Other snippets from this session: wine can often spoil a d√©gustation because it interferes with tasting dishes and matching wines to every dish overburdens the senses and disturbs the meal (Beaug√©, Balaguer). Farmers around New York are forming supplier consortia to make sourcing a range of ingredients easier for chefs. Chefs aren’t necessarily exploiting this resource (Hamilton). The enduring intellectual animosity towards molecular gastronomy (Sitwell, audience members) is sad. I feel the chefs in this movement lost control of the message so long ago and it’s a pity. (Note: no rants against mol-gastro/tecnoemoci√≥n in the comments please unless you’ve actually tried some and thought about it.)

The second session I attended was called ‘Future Food, Future Food Media’, focusing on how industry professionals (chefs, publishers) use the internet to promote themselves or provide a service. Panellists were Luc Dubanchet (www.ominvore.fr), B√©n√©dict Beaug√© again, Gilles Choukroun (www.gilleschoukroun.com), and the Spanish-speaking Balaguer. A very mixed range of issues, including monetising content, creating an image, using a site as an interface with visitors, online and offline publishing and more. What was becoming clear, however, was that chefs are not strongly in touch with the internet as a concept or tool, relying on others to act as their agents, protectors, promoters online.

The third session for me was ‘Web 2.0. How to blog and how not to blog’. I was there out of curiosity really, to see who would turn up and to be part of the Melbourne blogging contingent. The panel was Jackie Middleton (eatingwithjack.blogspot.com), Ed Charles (tomatom.com), Simon Johanson (The Age online), and Stephanie Wood (elegantsufficiency.typepad.com). It was a bit unfocused and I don’t think it addressed either part of the title well. The choice of ‘Web 2.0’ was almost guaranteed to scare the uninitiated off. The audience was very thin and included people who weren’t clear about what a blog was, let alone how to do it. Comments by Stephanie Wood riled some members of the audience, in particular the presumption that bloggers (in toto) don’t write well, are ignorant, can spread falsehoods and so much more. Indeed, as a follow-up, she has already posted on her own site, restating even more strongly her position. I’ll let it speak for itself. There are too many points to be teased apart for an intelligent discussion here.

It’s a great pity that so many sessions of strong interest were scheduled in parallel. Almost everyone seemed to agree that they were having to miss two or even three other interesting discussions. I would much rather not have wasted time in the Web 2.0 session (no reflection on the panel really), but it’s that toss up between hope, solidarity and guesswork. I hope others will write about other sessions.

The final session of the day, curiously without any parallel sessions, was ‘The Future of Drinking’. Clearly, many people weren’t so thrilled and left before it began. It was a relaxed and surprisingly interesting affair, looking at products, markets, importation vs local production, drinking habits and licensing issues. I’m glad I stayed for half of it.

Money well spent? No, not really. Although last year felt less diverse, this year’s schedule made it much harder to extract value from what was on offer. A real pity.

UPDATE: Other bloggers are commenting on Tomato, Confessions of a Food Nazi and Deep Dish Dreams.

Does Slow Food know its audience and goals?

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Melbourne is alive with the annual Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. A special event as part of the two-week festival is ‘A Taste of Slow’, held this weekend. There aren’t a lot of spoken word events at the Festival; there are a lot of interesting demonstrations, classes and dining experiences. By ‘spoken word’ I of course mean something more than ‘this is how you cook ingredient X’ — I’m looking for something more intellectually stimulating than that.

Three years ago, the Festival held a number of interesting panel discussions in conjunction with a trade fair (Fine Food) and the level of information and discussion was reasonably good. Since then, my memory tells me that the only spoken word affairs have been on the Slow Food side of things. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the topics for discussion are narrowed by the simple fact that Slow Food has specific things it wants to talk about and it attracts certain types of people.

That was a rather long preamble to a long comment about some of this year’s spoken word events. I attended two of yesterday’s sessions:

  • What is Slow Food?
  • Wellbeing and pleasure

I came away with a numb bum and the feeling that Slow Food is still failing to get its message across or perhaps even to know what its message is.

The events actually started on Friday evening, with a keynote by Greg Critser about his book ‘Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World’ and the reactions to it. I had to miss this due to a more important commitment, but in hindsight it’s a pity, because this talk seems to indicate a new direction for Slow Food.

The first Saturday session, ‘What is Slow Food?’ was billed as:

Did you know that Slow Food supports a gastronomic university and a foundation for saving rare and endangered foods? Speaking from personal experiences, members of the Australian Slow Food movement, Daniela Mollica, Bob MacLennan and Christine Bond explore the concepts and projects that ate at the heart of the Slow philosophy.

If it had started on time, my bum wouldn’t have got as numb on the attractive but really rather hard seats in the BMW Edge auditorium at Federation Square. Mistress of Ceremonies, radio personality Helen Razer, thought she was being funny when she hoped ‘that everyone had travelled here at snail’s pace’. The organisers certainly had.

Daniela Mollica gave us a bit of her resum√©, talked about her rare-breed cattle (Chianina), and provided a brief history of Slow Food in Melbourne and the Convivium (local chapter) that she helped found. She’s aware of many of the issues which concern Slow Food and the misconceptions about what Slow Food is, and she covered many points in an attempt to make a few things clear.

Bob MacLennan (Brisbane) talked about the ‘Ark of Taste’ which acts as a sort of registry for endangered traditional foods. He told us a little about the four Australian foods in the Ark (bunyanuts, bullboar sausages, leatherwood honey, Kangaroo Island Honey), showed us a mini-documentary about the breeders of mangalica pigs in Hungary and the starting of ‘Presidia’ (quality control projects), and then some film of initiation rites in Papua New Guinea. The latter was ostensibly relevant to his mention of giant yams, but the focus drifted.

Christine Bond (Darwin/Top End) started off by talking about food and history in the Top End but rapidly moved to telling us all about her Convivium’s activities and the practicalities of setting up and running a Convivium. At times it verged on the irrelevant for a Festival audience. Finally, we heard that her Convivium runs basic cookery classes. A noble endeavour, but it begs the question whether 99% of cookery books and classes are therefore ‘slow’.

It’s difficult running a movement-profile session when much of your audience might already know what Slow Food is, but others may have come because they knew nothing. A diverse audience requires a bit more than this hodgepodge. ‘Convivium’ was defined eventually. ‘Ark of Taste’ wasn’t explained fully, if I recall correctly, and the mysterious ‘Presidia’ suffered grammatically and conceptually. I don’t know if the speakers were given a clear brief, but after Daniela’s fairly good start it became less and less clear what the session wanted to achieve. As it was running so late, there was no chance for audience participation either — it would have been interesting to see why people attended and what they really wanted to know.

The second Saturday session, ‘Wellbeing and pleasure’, was described as:

Author Sherry Strong explains how slow, local and organic were never fads in nature, but simply the most convenient way to eat. Jane Dixon discusses how the supermarkets have weighed in on the debate about healthy eating. Chef Tony Chiodo demonstrates how easy it is to savour the simple pleasures of fresh, seasonal and healthy food.

And then it ran off the rails a bit. I didn’t expect to hear clich√©s about obesity and culture, or endure junk science and scare-mongering. That’s what we got to listen to.

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Jane Dixon’s well structured talk (an academic with a clear Powerpoint presentation) started interestingly, looking at the conundrum of supermarkets offering healthy convenience food and, more broadly, the oft-ignored fact that supermarkets have offered a lot of improvements for our health and diet. It was inevitable that these topics would be left underexplored in a fairly short presentation with a diverse audience, but I wished there was a little more information beyond the very general facts.

However, Dixon then wheeled out a few clichés which work well with a sympathetic audience but leave a bad taste if you think about them:

  • she placed interesting emphasis on ‘supermarket aisles full of fruit juices with their sugars’ and that set off an alarm because part of the obesity-crisis lobby is currently targeting fruit juice as a villain.
  • She then cited a study showing that time spent in one’s car is linked to obesity (and supermarkets cause us to sit in our cars).
  • Then we had the ‘Europeans value quality over quantity’ claptrap — that’s right, France has no burger chains full of adults and teens, French cheese isn’t heavy on fat, and the ever-popular ‘formules’ (set menus) aren’t too large and nutritionally unbalanced.

Somewhere close to the end we heard the wonderfully incongruous ‘food is fuel now’ (as opposed to in the good old times when women slaved at the stove churning out meals for their (presumably not always taste-interested) husbands and children to eat, or (heavens!) when people had access to barely any dietary variety and of course were stone-soup gourmets as they dined in their medieval huts). Food is just ‘fuel’ now, yet we spend so much time talking about it, dining out, trying new food fads, falling victim to gourmet-product markups… ??

Sherry Strong’s talk was passionate and well rehearsed, but in the way an evangelist spreads a message through motivating or scaring and choosing their rhetoric very carefully.

‘The further we deviate from nature, the sicker, bigger we’re getting.’ ‘In nature you’d never think to store an apple for twelve months or to cover it in chemicals.’

I’d love a definition of what ‘nature’ is in this sort of empty argumentation. Individual overweight humans have been observed for quite a large part of history. Preserving food using almost any technique and useful substance available isn’t exactly new. Burying food stuffs or storing them in caves to get through long cold (or hot) periods is simply the precursor to the cold cabinet.

Perhaps the absolute stunner for the day was the broad-stroke assertion that processing things with chemicals makes them dangerous to you. Let me paraphrase closely: No-one has an addiction to poppy seeds, but look what happens when you make heroin out of them. Now think about all that over-processed oil and refined sugar. Oh my god. I think I need one of those Jamie Oliver ‘Flavour Shakers’ — I’d fill it with powdered nuance and sprinkle it liberally.

On a lighter note, pleasant and likeable chef Tony Chiodo chatted about health and healthy eating and whipped up two soups.

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I’m sure there are lots of people caught up in the ideology being spruiked in this session and who would have agreed wholeheartedly with what was being said. By its very nature, Slow Food must attract people concerned about issues, but it can also serve an educative role. So much of the public discourse about food and eating exploits fears, misconceptions and rose-tinted nostalgia to persuade people to believe. Was this what the organisers of A Taste of Slow wanted in this session?

Across these two sessions, there was interesting information provided and points for discussion raised, but I felt the weaknesses were embarrassing. Spoken word events could be used to inform, explain, elaborate and challenge, but instead the first session was poorly thought out and the second (and perhaps other parts of the program as a whole) seem to be a path of ideology. It worries me, particularly, that the obesity-crisis lobby is gaining a voice under the Slow Food banner. I don’t see what legitimate role obesity clich√©s have within a movement that is meant to focus positively on food and cultural tradition. Daniela Mollica ended her talk by saying that Slow Food was about being ‘inclusive and positive, not exclusive and negative’, but those values will be hard to maintain if people who spend their time obsessing about negatives (evil supermarkets, evil industry, evil scientists, evil processed food) are embraced without question by Slow Food.